Friday, March 15, 2013

New Additions

As winter wanes and spring begins, little by little, to offer hints of its pending arrival, we begin to get excited.  We have seedlings growing under lights, waiting for the danger of frost to pass.  And this week we had probably the most fun we've had all winter:  We went to Rural King and picked out twelve new chicks, two ducks and two turkeys.  We estimate that they are all between one and two weeks old.  For the next few weeks they will all live in the tub of our spare bathroom, under a heat lamp with a small box of sand and a stick for a perch.  Then, once the weather warms, we'll move them outdoors and begin to integrate them with the existing flock.

The "nursery"

On Friday evening we spent some time taking photos of each of the new birds.  We wanted to get good photos of all the young chicks.  We wish our friend (and professional photographer), Stacy, could have seen this circus!  Carefully open the bathroom door, to keep the Boston Terriers out.  (Note for future reference:  Boston Terriers do not regard chicks as cute and cuddly.  They see them as small, feathery snacks!) Catch a couple chicks.  Ease back out the door.  Get the chicks to the counter for the photo shoot.  Set chicks in towel-covered tray.  Quickly snap a photo.  Put wandering chick back in tray.  Snap another photo.  Repeat.  Return puzzled chicks to bathroom.  Get another pair and start the process over.

Some of the little chicks did sit quietly and were easy to photograph.

Then we brought out the turkeys.  They were not interested in posing.  They wanted to explore the new environment.

Mike's favorites are the ducks.  They had an agenda of their own.  Fresh out of the nursery, they were not interested in sitting still for a portrait.  

Yeah...we've got attitude!

These are "Indian Runner" ducks...and they wanted to run!

After a few minutes they settled down and agreed to pose.

At this point we don't know how many are hens (girls) and how many are roosters, toms and drakes.  So we've got some learning, and surprises, ahead.  Stay tuned for more adventures!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Bees!!! (Part 1)

I spent most of the morning yesterday with my new friend Jim, building our first bee hive.  Jim has been a bee keeper for over 35 years.  We met him at a party last fall and had an interesting conversation about bees, hives, getting stung...all the things he's probably been asked a thousand times.  Jim and his brother keep six hives near their family home in Crawfordsville, Indiana - about 90 miles away.  He offered to help us set up a hive, if we were ever interested.  I contacted him in December to say we were ready.  Jim ordered the basic supplies - the hive boxes, or "woodenware" as he calls it, where the bees will live - and the bees.  The boxes shipped within a week from a supplier in Kentucky.  They came as a kit with precut boards, nails, and instructions.

I met Jim at his house on Saturday morning and he showed me into his basement workshop.  Jim has also been a wood worker for many years.  His shop was neat, orderly and contained practically any hand or power tool you might need to build fine furniture.  He led me through the construction of the hive boxes, all the while giving me a tutorial on bees, bee keeping techniques, and metallurgy (his career before he retired).

The basic hive boxes.

We completed the four basic boxes in about an hour, then began on the frames.  Each box will have ten frames, suspended like hanging files.  The frames each hold a thin plastic sheet embossed with a honey comb pattern.  The bees will excrete wax to build the honey comb, following the pattern on the plastic sheets.  Then they'll get to work making honey.

Frames hanging in the hive box.
We assembled 6 or 8 of the frames for one of the boxes - enough for me to understand how to do it.  I brought the remaining pieces home and will work on them over the next couple of weeks.  Jim kept the boxes and will give them a coat of paint.  

Our bees will arrive in early May- shipped in a small cage via the US Postal Service!  We will be getting Russian bees.  According to Jim, bees were not native to North America.  The early settlers brought them over, most originally came from Italy.  Russian bees, he told me, were a more docile variety - good for the beginning bee keeper - though in his opinion, meaner bees make more honey.  

The queen bee will be in a separate container within the package of bees.  She will be accompanied by a few worker bees.  The container will be closed with a plug made of sugar, which the queen and the workers will eat to get out into the new hive.  There will be a period of acclimation to the new environment, but within a few days the new colony should be settled and working.  

We're looking forward to this new experience, though we're approaching it with some caution.  Mary is mildly allergic to bee stings, and I've had a lifelong fear of flying insects with stingers.  But we'll get the right equipment - the suits, gloves and veiled hats - and some tutoring from Jim.  I expect there will be some challenges.  (Why should this be different from anything else we've tried here at the farm?)  I expect we'll get stung a few times.  But in the end, I expect it will work out well.  The bees will do some useful work for us - pollinating the garden and the orchard, and they'll make honey, too.  For now, I'll stay focused on that sweet reward.  

Stay tuned...more to come!


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Poona Kheera cucumbers

Our tag line at Second Act Farm is "...where every seed tells a story...".  This phrase reflects our interest in learning more about the food we grow and eat.  It prompts us to look for interesting varieties of vegetables that we've never found in our local grocery stores.  Once we've tried them, we want to share what we've learned with our friends, family and customers.

During our first season on the farm, we grew "Poona Kheera" cucumbers   This is an heirloom variety from India - named after the city of Poona, also known as Pune, which is one of several cities in India that Mike has visited.

The Poona Kheera is a smooth-skinned cucumber with a mild, slightly sweet flavor. What's surprising about them is their color.  As the fruit matures it changes color from white to golden yellow (shown) to a russet brown.

Here in Columbus, Indiana we have a large Indian population, but there are only a few options for finding foods native to India.  We'll be growing Poona Kheeras next year and expect them to be a popular item at our local farmers markets.

- Mike

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The New Chicks at Second Act Farm

We've learned a crucial lesson this summer:  There are not enough hours in the day to learn how to farm and blog, too.  Since it's been a couple months since we started the blog, you can probably tell where our time has been spent.  But we're catching up now, and have a few stories to tell.  Here's the first one.

We had talked about getting chickens this summer, but had not acted.  Then in late May we saw the ad on craigslist - a turnkey chicken setup:  6 hens, a coop and all the equipment and feed.  The owners were a neat couple, Mike and Erin, who were moving from Nashville, Indiana to Elkins, WV.  They had determined that they couldn't move the chickens, so were selling the whole deal...lock, stock, and coop, as it were.

We drove over on a Sunday afternoon and talked with Erin.  She showed us the coop and the ladies.  We gave her a down payment on the spot.  The coop was great.  Nashville Mike had spent a lot of time building it, and it looked like it would last for years.  The only hitch was the size - it was almost 6 feet wide, 9 feet long, and almost 9 feet tall.  At least one other potential buyer had backed out when confronted with the large coop.  He simply couldn't move it.


Our Mike arranged to rent a big dual axle trailer from a local rental company, then got our friends Ian and Rob organized to go to Nashville with us on the afternoon of May 24th.  This was, coincidentally, our 36th wedding anniversary.  Mike joked with Mary several times that she was the luckiest woman he knew - nobody else was getting chickens for their anniversary gift.  (Mary laughed, but Mike sensed she was not really amused...)

It looked like an episode of the Beverly Hillbillies coming back into Columbus from Nashville, with the coop lashed down to the trailer, and the the roof panels flapping in the wind.  Every other car that passed us honked and pointed - "Hey, dude, you're about to lose the roof!".  We smiled and waved - "Thanks.  We know, that's why we're driving so slow!"

 Back at the farm, Rob, Mike and Mary gave the coop a few good heaves and rolled it off the trailer onto its new roost next to our old hen house.

Mike spent Friday morning putting up a fence around the new coop and the old hen house.  By 10am, our ladies had a spacious new home.  They even helped arrange the dirt around the foundation. (Spoiler:  It didn't take any encouragement to get them to help.  Put a pile of dirt in front of a chicken and she will immediately start to level it out.  Helpful some of the time...except when I wanted the dirt in a pile!)

In the weeks since, we have had lots of fun watching the birds, learning their habits, and adapting the environment to suit them.  We've also had one tragic night...which we will recount in a future post.  For now, it's enough to say that we transplanted six healthy chickens from Brown County to Bartholomew County, and have enjoyed the output - a dozen fresh eggs every 3 - 5 days.

~ Mike

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Here We Are!

Hello, and welcome to the Second Act Farm blog. We're happy you're here.

"We" are Mike and Mary.  We've been married for 36 years, raised three great kids, and have maintained a great sense of adventure throughout our life together.  Early on we struggled to make ends meet - two 70's liberal arts majors with no readily marketable skills.  But we have been blessed to live our lives in an America that offered great opportunities to anyone willing to work hard.  We have worked more jobs than we can count, sometimes more than one at a time, and have learned valuable lessons from each one.  Over time we found our niches and built our careers.

We have traveled together to many areas of America and Europe - exploring them on foot, looking for the unique experiences that are missed by the tour bus traveler.  In our travels we have experienced the comfort of hot soup on a damp London afternoon.  We have tasted local wines made at small Tuscan vineyards.  We have snorkeled in Hawaii.  We have hiked through Boston, New York and San Francisco -savoring the unique sights and smells of each major city.  Every place we have visited has taught us something, and we have tried to bring that learning back to wherever we call home.

We have lived in small towns and medium-sized cities, in apartments, houses and condominiums.  They have been interesting places, but have always had an underlying sense of impermanence.  We never lived in a place that felt like "the" place - the home of our dreams, the place we would grow old in.  There was always a sense that this place would do for now, but the next place would be better, closer to the ideal.  That missing element kept us moving.  We've joked with friends that we keep cars longer than we keep houses.  (Both of our cars are over 10 years old...but each has been parked in 4 different driveways.)

Last year, in our last house, we spent several months contemplating a major remodel.  We had some great plans drawn up that would have transformed our 1960's vintage home into a magazine quality space for entertaining.  The prospects were exciting, but the cost estimates made us think twice...or three times...or four.  What was it we were looking for?  We realized that we weren't interested in living in the latest space from Architectural Digest or Dwell, nice as that might have been.  The house was on a quiet street, on a beautifully landscaped lot.  Out the back, we looked over a pool and across a city park - a view guaranteed not to be spoiled by development.

But something was missing.  Something kept gnawing at us, just below the level of consciousness.  Nice as it was, we found that we couldn't grow a vegetable garden - the back yard was too shady.  Was that it?  Really?

Then, late last fall, Mary had an epiphany.  She saw an article on Facebook - a reflection by a hospice worker on the regrets she heard her patients express on their deathbeds.  There were numerous variations on a theme:  I wish I had done this or that when I had the chance.  Now it's too late.  I'll never get to do it.

Mary listened, and reacted.  "Look", she said, "We used to talk about wanting a farm.  I still do.  If we're ever going to do it, it needs to be now!"

"Yes", Mike answered.  "I remember.  We used to talk about it all the time.  OK.  Let's do it."

Thus the search began.  This spring, 2012, we moved to a six acre farm outside Columbus, Indiana.  We've named it Second Act Farm, a name we'll explain in a future post.  For now, what you need to know is that it represents a dream deferred, but not forgotten.  If you're reading this first post in the summer of 2012, you have probably been in conversation with us about our vision and objectives for the farm.  You have been incredibly gracious and supportive - not one of our friends or family members has called us crazy, at least to our face.

We are creating this blog to document our experiences.  Through it we will report our successes (cheer us on!) and our failures (learn with us!).  We hope you will enjoy the posts that follow.  If you have stumbled on the blog through a referral at a later date, we hope you will find something instructive - some information that will allow you to move forward without making the same mistakes that we did.

Either way, we welcome your comments and value your opinions.  Thanks for going on the journey with us.  We expect it will be a lot of fun!

Mike & Mary
Second Act Farm
Columbus, Indiana